End Times & Doctrinal Statements

Most people i know (who are Reformed) have an experience that is very similiar to mine (so i will share)…In the words of R.C. Sproul, no one is born a Calvinist. We are born Palagians or at best, Semi-Pelagians. When God opens our hearts to recieve the gospel obv. our theology is normally very incomplete. We understand the essentials of the gospel but normally not a whole lot more. Hopefully, we find ourselves in a good Bible church and through this and our own personal studies we grow in understanding. In reading through the Old and New Testaments people will encounter lots of ‘Calvinistic words’ like predestined, foreknowledge, etc. At some point we ask ourselves the difficult questions: I know i was saved by grace through faith alone but how does election fit into this picture. Did I choose God or did He choose me or is it a combo of both? Who should get the credit for my salvation? Are we capable of cooperating with God’s grace?

Many of us realize that salvation is really all of God (esp. once we understand biblical depravity). In time, someone introduces us to the works of “Reformed” writers like Hodge, Calvin, the Puritans, etc. We are convinced that the doctrines of grace are Scripturally sound and we have a new badge. We are no longer just Christians we are now Reformed Evangelicals.

In college i realized that when people say they are “Reformed” that it doesn’t mean the same thing to every person. Some say if you are not “Covenantal” then you are not truly Reformed. Inevitably this opens up a whole new field of study. What is the relationship between the New and Old Testaments? What method of hermeneutics is most accurate? What about the OT Law? And of course end times (Eschatology) theology is always a big question.

I started to question my premillennial convictions when i read books like “Wrongly dividing the people of God” and other works by faithful Covenant theologians. I realized that all of us (pre and amill theologians alike) affirm the authority of the Scriptures. What i needed to do was to have my Eschatological convictions forged in the Text (through study and exegesis). When i went through the minor prophets and then Romans 9-11 in this fashion i realized that their has to be some sort of future for National Israel. Replacement theology (in my humble opinion) was just not able to answer the tough questions that arose from the Old and New Testament texts.

I try not and say that I am a Biblicist that’s why i am Premill because i dont think that is really fair to my Covenantal brethren (who also claim to be biblicists).  Eschatology should never be the litmus test for orthodoxy.

Eschatology is a secondary matter but that does not mean a church should nec. omit it from their doctrinal statement. If we carried out that logic (consistently) then we would not talk about the mode of baptism, or the whole issue of how to view the Lord’s table, church polity, or even matters pertaining to the doctrines of grace(after all historic Arminians like John Wesley are Evangelicals).

Some churches (like the one i currently pastor at) choose not to include end times theology in their doctrinal statement. That is a fair choice as well. Each church (leadership team) must make there own decision. 

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Greg Stancil on May 9, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Caleb,

    I completely agree with you regarding orthodoxy. I also think there is probably some wisdom in not including detailed point by point beliefs on eschatology (i.e. pretrib, midtrib, posttrib, millennial system, etc.) in the doctrinal statement. What are your thoughts regarding differences in eschatology and teaching/officer positions in the local church.

    If a church chooses to put eschatology in the doctrinal statement would an elder, deacon or teacher in the church need to agree line for line with the eschatological position? Would it be different for different positions/offices?

  2. Posted by Juan Z on May 9, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Great post. I wonder if you would explain more in detail your point on going over the minor prophets and Romans 9-11. I have to wait till Jan 08 before I can study Daniel in school.

    Thanks
    Juan

  3. Posted by jAsOn on May 9, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    There has been a great deal of exposure to this subject since the Shepherd’s conference. All I have to add is that Sam Waldron has begun what he is calling a “blog book” in the context of a response to Macarthur’s message regarding Amillennialism. This will be a very helpful resource in the months ahead as we all try to understand what one another is saying. Here is the link:

    http://www.mctsowensboro.org/blog/?cat=9

    jAsOn

  4. Greg,

    To answer your questions

    1) The doctrinal statement must be kept. So if a church wants to allow various viewpoints (esp. among staff members) then it is best to not mention anything regarding eschatology except the 2nd Coming of Christ, etc, etc.

    2. I think my first answer depends somewhat on Church Polity though. Many churches that have elders or deacons in leadership believe the Sr. teaching pastor is the leader among the leaders. If the Sr. Pastor has strong convictions concerning end times it probably would not work to have staff members teaching various viewpoints.

    3. To some this question is much more complicated than it may appear. Some would argue, what’s the big deal if an elder is post-mill and three of them are pre-mill; and the Sr pastor/elder is Amill… If people have really different ways of interpreting the Bible (and they do) then that could cause confusion as people listen to various pastors/elders teach from the pulpit.

    4. I don’t think a solid Presbyterian church would hire me. I am not Covenantal, thus i don’t believe in infant baptism, etc, etc. I consider myself Reformed Baptist. Eschatology is a secondary issue to me but i still have strong pre-mill convictions. Of course it is possible to be Covenantal and pre-mill (like GE Ladd and I think Jim Boice).

    5. Personally, i would have less problems with a new member stating his disagreements with the church over end times theology than i would a fellow staff member. I know churches with elder boards that function harmoniously even with various eschatological viewpoints. I would not have an issue with an elder holding a different position but i would probably except an agreement would be made over what he taught on this issue.

    6. As a result of these challenges some churches have tried to ignore the questions altogether. The problem is if you’re committed to teaching the whole counsel of God through Expository preaching you are going to have to address these issues.

  5. Thanks Caleb, I enjoyed your post and reading your journey to getting your ‘new badge’. :) I agree with you that eschatology is secondary, but I do think if a church chooses to put their eschatological position in their doctrinal statement, then that position should be what is ‘taught’ by all the men in the church. If a church is content to have elders that have varied opinions on eschatology, then I think they should refrain from explicitly stating a position in their doctrinal statement.

  6. Nath-

    I wouldn’t argue with you though i imagine a case could be made to allow for leaders to agree to disgree on secondary matters as long as everything was upfront and on the table.

    Juan Z-

    I’ll see what time permits me to post.

    Thanks to all for contributing.

  7. If it’s in the statement of faith, it had better be enforced for leaders and teachers — or at least for teachING.

  8. Dan,

    We appreciate your biblical posts over at pyromaniacs. You guys do a great job. Thanks for your post!

    Caleb

  9. Caleb,

    Great post. This is something our church is sifting through even now. We are a church plant (6 years old) who copied our doctrinal statement from our founding church. We have changed in our theology, becoming Reformed in our soteriology and are struggling with our eschatology.

    Our current statement is Dispensational. I, as the pastor have moved to what I would call Historical Pre-mil. One of the other elders is prolly there too, while another elder is prolly still Dispensational.

    We are thinking about adjusting our doctrinal statement to be more along the lines of the historic Baptist statements, or like the current BFM, which seem to be pretty general.

    Any advice?

  10. Our church used the 1689 LBC of faith as the basis for our doctrinal statement. We then modified it, edited it (to fit some of our own convictions). We also put some of it into more modern day language. I was not here when this entire process took place, but i’ve been told it was a valuable process for all the elders/pastors involved.

    You could always create your own church statement of faith (doctrinal statement) as well. This would be a very time consuming project and would require the elder board to really cut their teeth on God’s Word…As the Sr. Pastor you would probably be the chief writer but then all the elders could help with editing, etc, etc. I think John MacArthur advocates this process.

    The downside of completely writing your own statement of faith from scratch (for lack of a better description) is that it has almost no historical foundation.

    This is something your leadership would have to weigh out and really think about.

    I would never try and propose “controversial doctrines” on my congregation through a new statement of faith. The better option would be to teach verse by verse through the Scriptures and show people what the Word of God really does say/teach. Many pastors have done this with great success. How the Spirt of God uses the external Word is really an amazing thing.

    The Lord bless you Doug-

  11. Caleb

    Eschatology as been an important part of my ministry. I have never seen Eschatology as a secondary matter, even in Scripture.

    The local church “end times” and “doctrinal statments”, are what the church eldership believes. Naturally those who come into the church over the years may come from a different background of theology. Nevertheless its been my practice to preach/teach the truth as I believe to be correct.

    A pastor who has been a pastor in one church for twenty years and will not address Eschatology out of fear, and will not address this issue in a doctrinal statment in my humble opinion will do dis service to the church body. Why should he be trusted with any other doctrinal statment he might make?

    When young converts come into the church, they should from the beginning to taught doctrinal understanding. From the position of salvation by grace alone, regeneration before faith, or baptism as a believer and not as a baby, spiritual gifts, church government, etc. what you as a pastor believe, teach it. Where the Scripture teaches about God and his plan, teach it and write it down.

    Don’t let the title guide your believe. (Reformed, Calvinist, Evangelical, Baptist, Covenant, Fundamental, etc. You define what you and your church elders believe and write it down.

    Well that has been my practice in every church I have pastored. People in the church were very clear as to what I believed on any given subject. And I tried to allow them to come to the same position as they grew in the knoweldge of the Word of God.

    Charles

  12. Charles,

    You are right titles should never guide what we believe. Accurate titles do sometimes help define us. If i tell someone i go to a Reformed Baptist church that may or may not be helpful to them. If they read our church doctrinal statement and download some of our sermons then they should get a better feel for what we believe.

    End times theology should not become a fundamental issue within the church. Our message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    With that said, if one does teach the whole counsel of God then they will cover this topic in the context of Scripture.

    Thanks for your thoughts

  13. “I would never try and propose “controversial doctrines” on my congregation through a new statement of faith. The better option would be to teach verse by verse through the Scriptures and show people what the Word of God really does say/teach. Many pastors have done this with great success. How the Spirt of God uses the external Word is really an amazing thing.”

    Caleb that statement is full of wisdom.

    While I would not make a issue of fellowship with the brethren who held different position of last things, nor even those who are not “Calvinist” they do.

    There are few preachers who can have dinner with Jerry Falwell and his wife Macel on Sunday (my family and Jerry’s family) and be a Calvinist/MacArthur preacher as I am.

    You stated: ‘End times theology should not become a fundamental issue within the church. Our message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” While I agree with you on the message of Christ and Him crucified; the circle of churches that I have been in the last forty years make end times an issue.

    But I understand your point, use wisdom in your positional statements. If you have not made a statement as to your position in your church in ten years, its best not to start next Sunday.

    Charles

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